All posts by Bobby Hellard

Apple, Google and Microsoft report record-breaking profits


Bobby Hellard

28 Jul, 2021

Apple, Google and Microsoft all broke quarterly profit records for Q2 2021 as the tech sector continues to grow amid the COVID pandemic.

Increased cloud adoption, internet usage and the success of the latest iPhone have helped to strengthen the stock performance of three of the world’s biggest companies – two of which have reached a market valuation of $2 trillion during the pandemic. 

Apple: iPhone 12 success

Apple, the first company to be valued at $2 trillion, posted revenues of $81.4 (£58.5 billion) billion for the quarter ending June 26, an increase of 36% year-on-year.

This is largely down to the success of the iPhone 12 range, with sales up 50% at $39 billion. There were some reports earlier in the year that the iPhone mini hadn’t done as well as expected, but the standard and Pro Max versions of the handset have proved extremely popular. 

However, there are some concerns that this hot streak will be curtailed by the ongoing chip shortage, which has beset other sectors, such as the automotive industry. Apple itself is wary of the issue, pointing out that it has already started to affect its ability to produce Macs and iPads and could eventually affect its iPhone production; the firm even forecasted slowing revenue growth for the rest of 2021. 

Google: YouTube, search and cloud growth

Google parent company Alphabet reported second-quarter earnings of $61.8 billion (£44.5 billion), a 62% increase year on year, with advertising revenues up 69%. The biggest increase, however, came from search which has shot up $14 billion since the same period last year at $35.8 billion. Many of its segments saw double-digit growth, like YouTube advertising, which brought in revenues near $7 billion, almost twice the $3.8 billion it generated last year. 

The only real negative for Google was its cloud division, which continues to operate at a loss with $591 million written off in Q2. However, Google Cloud is still the fastest-growing segment of Alphabet’s overall business with revenues of $4.6 billion, up from $3 billion last year. 

Microsoft: Saved by the cloud

Microsoft pulled in revenues of $46.2 billion (£33 billion), up 21% year on year, but it wasn’t all rosy for the Redmond tech giant. While the chip shortage is expected to hamper iPhone sales in the near future, it has already started to impact Microsoft’s Windows and hardware segments, such as Surface laptops. Windows OEM revenue declined by 3% in Q2 and Surface sales dropped 20%, both of which were attributed to “supply chain constraints”. 

The company was still able to post record-breaking quarterly profits though, thanks to its commercial products and cloud services which increased 20%. This is the part of the business that includes its Azure cloud platform, but also Microsoft 365, which saw subscribers increase to 51.9 million – a 22% increase year on year. 

Box launches free e-signature tool for all customers


Bobby Hellard

27 Jul, 2021

Box has launched a new e-signature function as a free addition to its platform that allows users to complete transactions entirely in the cloud.

The company said that ‘Box Sign’, which is available now, will also come with a robust set of application programming interfaces (APIs), which will allow businesses to modernise and manage all their agreements via the cloud.

With businesses transitioning into hybrid environments where employees are separated between the office and the home, Box hopes its new feature can help to streamline its customer experience by removing any need for physical documentation.

“Every day, more transactions are moving from paper-based manual workflows to the cloud, and we will only see this trend accelerate as companies shift to a hybrid work environment,” said Diego Dugatkin, chief product officer at Box.

“With the addition of natively embedded e-signatures, Box customers will be able to manage the entire content lifecycle in the cloud, realising the value of their content – at no additional cost. From the moment a file is created to when it’s shared, edited, published, approved, signed, classified, and retained, the entire content lifecycle can now happen in the Box Content Cloud.”

The ability to sign off documents in the cloud has come from Box’s $55 million acquisition of Dutch startup SignRequest, which was only announced in February of this year. The takeover was seen as a way for Box to muscle in on Dropbox’s territory, with Box Sign touted as the first use case at the time of the deal.

The cloud service has reportedly come under some investor pressure for middling stock performance during the pandemic and there were even suggestions that the company’s leadership were considering a sale and had held talks with potential buyers.

Box was thought to be well placed to grow during the pandemic and, while it has benefited from the shift to working from home over the last 12 months, its growth has been far lower than rival cloud businesses.

Amazon releases trove of Alexa tools to address developer apathy


Bobby Hellard

22 Jul, 2021

Amazon is aiming to re-energise its Alexa voice platform with the release of a trove of new developer tools, announced at its Alexa Live conference on Wednesday.

The company hopes the new tools will help create more variety on the platform and encourage Alexa device owners to discover and engage with more Alexa apps and services, referred to as ‘skills’.

However, the update has come after a significant drop in new skills being developed over the last three years. As of October 2020, total Alexa skills in the UK were 37,000, and 77,000 in the US, according to research from Voicebot.ai.

The findings suggest that in 2019, the rate of new Alexa skills introduced per day in the US was 58% lower than in 2018, with a further decline of 38% in 2020. The rate of new skills per day in the UK was 66% lower in the first three quarters of 2020 compared to the full year 2019.

Part of the problem is that finding new skills is hampered by its voice-only interface – with users being unable to easily see what’s available at a glance. Amazon has attempted to fix this by launching Alexa-enabled devices with smart screens, but with the launch of new tools that help developers better surface their skills to users, the firm clearly feels more could be done.

This includes a new feature that will see Alexa respond to common requests, such as “Alexa, tell me a story” or “Alexa, let’s play a game”, with personalised skill suggestions based on customer use. And a new “contextual discovery” mechanism will allow customers to use natural language and phrases to accomplish tasks across skills.

For users with screen-based devices, the new tools include widgets and Featured Skill Cards for developers to promote their news apps – essentially as a way to make Alexa skills discoverable like apps on a mobile phone. 

Amazon is also improving the ways in which developers can monetise their applications with support for ‘Paid Skills’, and in-skill purchases.

Microsoft acquires security startup CloudKnox


Bobby Hellard

22 Jul, 2021

Microsoft has announced the acquisition CloudKnox, a security startup that helps businesses manage their cloud access credentials.

The terms of the deal have not been disclosed but it is another addition to Microsoft’s burgeoning security portfolio.

CloudKnox, which was founded in California in 2015, uses automated software to spot and remove cases of unused permissions and virtual identities. It can also be used to show alerts for unusual activity or attempts to use in-active or compromised employee credentials. The firm’s software is already compatible with Microsoft’s Azure, as well as Google Cloud and AWS.

According to Microsoft’s corporate vice president, Joy Chik, recent high-profile breaches have demonstrated just how quickly bad actors can infiltrate systems by exploiting “misappropriated privileged credentials”, a problem that has been exacerbated by a surge in demand for remote access over the past year.

“While organisations are reaping the benefits of cloud adoption, they still struggle to assess, prevent, enforce and govern privileged access across hybrid and multi-cloud environments,” Chik said in a blog post. “Even if they piece multiple siloed systems together, they still get an incomplete view of privileged access.

“Traditional Privileged Access Management and Identity Governance and Administration solutions are well suited for on-premises environments, however they fall short of providing the necessary end-to-end visibility for multi-cloud entitlements and permissions.”

The acquisition also highlights Microsoft’s current focus on securing its cloud services. Last week, the firm announced the takeover of RiskIQ, a startup that provides customers with cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) protection to detect phishing attacks, fraud attempts, and malware infections. Again, however, the terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The tech giant’s own security services have generated over $10 billion in revenue over the past 12 months, which is a 40% increase year-on-year, and one of its fastest-growing business segments.

ICO launches AI risk assessment toolkit for businesse


Bobby Hellard

21 Jul, 2021

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is launching a risk assessment toolkit for businesses so they can check if their use of artificial intelligence (AI) systems breaches data protection laws.

The AI and Data Protection Risk Assessment Toolkit, available in beta, draws upon the regulator’s previously published guidance on AI, as well as other publications provided by the Alan Turing Institute. 

The toolkit contains risk statements that organisations can use while processing personal data to understand the implications this can have for the rights of individuals. It will also provide suggestions for best practices that companies can put in place to manage and mitigate risks and ensure they’re complying with data protection laws. 

It’s based on an auditing framework, according to the ICO, which was developed by its internal assurance and investigation teams following a call for help from industry leaders back in 2019

The framework provides a clear methodology to audit AI applications and ensures they process personal data in compliance with the law. The ICO said that if an organisation is using AI to process personal data, then by using its toolkit, it can have high assurance that it is complying with data protection legislation.

“We are presenting this toolkit as a beta version and it follows on from the successful launch of the alpha version in March 2021,” said Alister Pearson, the ICO’s Senior Policy Officer for Technology and Innovation Service. “We are grateful for the feedback we received on the alpha version. We are now looking to start the next stage of the development of this toolkit.

“We will continue to engage with stakeholders to help us achieve our goal of producing a product that delivers real-world value for people working in the AI space. We plan to release the final version of the toolkit in December 2021.”

The ICO has urged anyone interested in testing the toolkit on a live AI application to get in contact with the regulator via email (AI@ico.org.uk).

IBM records strongest revenue growth in three years


Bobby Hellard

20 Jul, 2021

IBM beat analyst expectations after reporting that revenues increased by 3% year-on-year revenue growth in the second quarter of 2021 to $18.7 billion, its fastest increase for three years.

The tech giant also reiterated that its revenues will continue to grow across the full year.   

IBM CEO Arvind Krishna attributed the increase to “strong performance” in the company’s Global Business Services and software segments, but its revenues for cloud services and Red Hat also saw significant increases. 

“At the same time, we continued to help clients infuse our AI-based technology offerings into their core business workflows,” said Krishna. “We are pleased with our progress and we remain on track to deliver full-year revenue growth and meet our cash flow objective.”

The Cloud and Cognitive Software unit, which includes Red Hat, brought in $6.1 billion in revenue, a 6% increase compared to 2020, while revenues from IBM’s Global Business Services increased by 12%. System revenues, which includes hardware, contributed $1.71 billion, which was a 7% decline year-on-year.

The company is preparing to split its business in two with an infrastructure-focused unit called Kyndryl launching later in the year. This will include IBM’s Global Technology Services unit, which includes as outsourcing and support which brought in $6.34 billion in the second quarter.

“While our performance with existing clients remains strong, as we would expect, the sales cycles for new logo clients is elongating as they await further information related to Kyndryl,” said Jim Kavanaugh, IBM’s finance chief.

The second quarter also saw IBM spend $1.75 billion spent on acquisitions, the most in a single quarter since it splashed $34 billion on Red Hat in Q3 of 2019. It is currently working on a deal for process-mining software company myInvenio, application management firm Turbonomic and a Salesforce consulting spin-off called Waeg

This was in addition to the unveiling of its “breakthrough” 2-nanometer chip technology, which IBM claims will vastly improve energy efficiency and performance of various kinds of devices.

Zoom buys Five9 for $14.7 billion in largest acquisition yet


Bobby Hellard

19 Jul, 2021

Zoom has announced that it is spending $14.7 billion to acquire a company called Five9, which provides cloud contact centre software.

The all-stock transaction is the first billion-dollar takeover for Zoom and the second-biggest tech deal of the year, following Microsoft’s $19.7 billion acquisition of Nuance Communications

Five9, much like Zoom, is another pandemic success story. The firm has seen rapid growth since early-2020 as demand increased for call centre technology that allowed people to do their jobs from home. The company’s business model is known as a ‘contact centre as a service’, or ‘CCaaS’, with the firm considered a pioneer in the field. It offers a “comprehensive” suite of easy-to-use applications that allow management and optimisation of customer interactions across different channels.

Zoom will combine the service with its communications platform and offer it as a way for businesses to connect with their customers as an engagement platform of the future. The video conferencing giant hopes the acquisition will enhance its presence with enterprise customers and allow it to accelerate its long-term growth by entering the contact centre market, which is thought to be worth around $24 billion. 

“We are continuously looking for ways to enhance our platform, and the addition of Five9 is a natural fit that will deliver even more happiness and value to our customers,” said Zoom CEO, Eric S. Yuan. “Zoom is built on a core belief that robust and reliable communications technology enables interactions that build greater empathy and trust, and we believe that holds particularly true for customer engagement. 

“Enterprises communicate with their customers primarily through the contact centre, and we believe this acquisition creates a leading customer engagement platform that will help redefine how companies of all sizes connect with their customers. We are thrilled to join forces with the Five9 team, and I look forward to welcoming them to the Zoom family.”

The deal is expected to close in the first half of 2022, the two firms said. 

IBM acquires hybrid data firm Bluetab Solutions


Bobby Hellard

15 Jul, 2021

IBM has announced it will be acquiring Spanish hybrid cloud consultancy firm Bluetab Solutions as it continues to flesh out its new hybrid cloud and AI strategy.

The financial details of the deal have not been revealed, but it’s expected to be completed by Q4 of 2021.

Bluetab will become a key part of IBM’s hybrid cloud and AI strategy as a data services consulting practice. The firm, which is based in Madrid, was founded in 2005 and has brand partnerships in banking, telecommunications, and energy and utilities industries across Spain, Mexico, Peru, and Colombia.

It works with enterprises by migrating their on-premise systems to hybrid multi-cloud data platforms using a combination of public cloud providers and technologies, such as Red Hat OpenShift.

“The outside-in digital transformation of the past is giving way to the inside-out potential of using company-owned data with AI and automation to generate business value and create intelligent workflows,” said Mark Foster, senior vice president of IBM’s Services and Global Business Services.

“Our acquisition of Bluetab will fuel migration to the cloud and help our clients to realise even more value from their mission-critical data.”

Bluetab’s expertise in data and cloud migration services includes specialised data strategy, data fabric, and advanced analytics, according to IBM.

The firm’s data experts will also be joining IBM’s Global Business Services to capitalise on opportunities in the rapidly growing market for data services, which is estimated to reach $232 billion by 2024, according to Gartner. That’s double the $123 billion it reached in 2020.

“The key to solving data challenges for our clients has been the exceptionally talented and experienced team we have been able to build as well as the value-added accelerators we have developed,” said José Luis López, co-founder of Bluetab. “We could not be more excited by the opportunity that IBM offers us to continue to grow our team, to build on our accelerators and to help more clients achieve leadership positions by leveraging their data.”

Bank of England warns sector is too reliant “secretive” cloud providers


Bobby Hellard

14 Jul, 2021

The Bank of England (BoE) has warned about the financial sector’s increasing reliance on “secretive” cloud service providers that operate online servers. 

In its latest survey on the state of financial systems, the BoE expressed concerns that the UK’s banks are moving more and more of their administration and accounts online, warning that this “could pose a risk to financial stability”. 

The BoE has previously raised concerns that the market for cloud services is highly concentrated, with companies such as Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS) heavily dominating. Ministers have also previously questioned the government’s own reliance on those two tech giants. 

However, the organisation’s concerns have been repeated due to the pandemic, which has seen financial institutions accelerate digital transformation plans and increase their reliance on cloud service providers (CSPs). 

In a news conference, BoE Governor Andrew Bailey expressed his concerns about the “secretive” nature of these CSPs, saying that while he “understood cloud providers’ desire not to reveal too much publicly about their operations in case it opened the door to cyber attacks, firms needed to give more information to regulators and customers.”

“That concentrated power on terms can manifest itself in the form of secrecy, opacity, not providing customers with the sort of information they need to monitor the risk in the service,” he said, according to Reuters

The Prudential Regulation Authority and Financial Conduct Authority have recently strengthened regulations regarding operational resilience and third-party risk management, according to the BoE, but the increasing reliance on a small number of CSPs could increase financial stability risks without greater direct regulatory oversight of the resilience of those provider’s services. 

“The Financial Policy Committee (FPC) is of the view that additional policy measures to mitigate financial stability risks in this area are needed, and welcomes the engagement between the Bank, FCA and HM Treasury on how to tackle these risks,” the Bank of England said in its report. 

“The FPC recognises that absent a cross-sectoral regulatory framework, and cross-border co-operation where appropriate, there are limits to the extent to which financial regulators alone can mitigate these risks effectively.” 

Google replaces Backup and Sync with Drive for Desktop


Bobby Hellard

13 Jul, 2021

Google has announced plans to move users from its Backup and Sync file-syncing services to a new unified desktop app for Drive

Onboarding for the Drive for Desktop app will start on 19 July, with Google recommending users make the switch by the end of September before they’re locked out on 1 October.

The transition is just for Backup and Sync users, however, as business clients who are already using Drive File Stream – the enterprise name for Drive for Desktops – should already be set up. 

The aim of moving to a unified desktop app is to create “a powerful and unified sync client”, according to Google, with the best features from both consumer and enterprise services that should be more straightforward to use and easier for IT teams to manage.

In a blog post, Google suggests the new app will be pretty familiar to anyone who used its previous file-syncing services. Drive for Desktop will offer easy access to files and photos stored in the cloud, and will sync files in the background to keep them up to date.

Google also suggests the app can sync external storage devices like flash drives to Drive, mirror files between Drive and local files on a desktop computer, and let users choose whether they store individual photos and videos in Drive or Google Photos.

The launch of Drive for Desktop coincided with a few announcements from the tech giant, which included changes to services that helped many through the pandemic. In April 2020, for example, Google Meet was made available to all users with day-long group calls, but that has been switched to an hour as of 1 July. As such, free Gmail users will now have to make do with calls with three or more participants at a limit of 60 minutes.